Tales of Massachusetts politics

Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership
By Richard A. Hogarty
University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 356 pages

In Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership, Richard A. Hogarty looks at politics with an emphasis on policy, on what works and what doesn¹t, and on the role of individual decisions. Hogarty knows that politicians are human beings, and that, whatever the systemic pressures may be, in the end they make human choices about what to do.

Though this collection could have used a snappier title, readers of CommonWealth magazine should like the book. Teachers like me will like it as well. Our state has a rich and tumultuous political history, but careful studies of the recent past are few and far between. This book of well-informed case studies on Massachusetts politics will help fill that gap.

Hogarty, a retired professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and still a senior fellow at the McCormack Institute of Public Affairs, has been studying and writing about Massachusetts politics for 30 years. In this book, he has combined six of his essays, most previously published (one of them in this magazine). The essays vary in scope, purpose, and intended audience, and are tied together only loosely by a newly written introduction on “understanding power in Massachusetts.” Taken together, however, they give the reader a rich appreciation of the last 40 years of Bay State politics.

“The Sargent Governorship” describes several of Francis Sargent’s dramatic strokes of policy innovation in the early 1970s: stopping construction of I-95 and the Inner Belt, closing juvenile reform schools, trying to reform the corrections system, moving mental patients from hospitals to community care, and reorganizing the state bureaucracy into 10 cabinet departments. Hogarty ascribes Sargent’s success to “the interplay of personality and politics” –a pragmatic style, a willingness to listen, an equal willingness to make decisions –and the recruitment of top-notch appointees. This chapter could be studied profitably by any aspiring, or even sitting, governor. At the same time, since this chapter, like the others, was republished with little or no revision, Hogarty leaves himself open to the harsh judgment of hindsight. Closing three state mental hospitals in three years seemed like a great achievement at the time, and that’s the way Hogarty reports it. Today, we are more conscious of the failure to achieve the second part of the plan, creating an adequate network of community treatment facilities.

The book’s next chapter, “Transforming the Mental Health Care System,” gives a fuller picture. Hogarty uses a single event–the 1992 closing of Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham–as a lens for viewing the issues of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and privatization of mental health services. It’s a complicated tale that can be confusing for an unwary reader. There are long flashbacks to the development of asylums in the 19th century, the deinstitutionalization of the 1970s, and the roots of the fiscal crisis of the early 1990s. It is easy to forget where you are at any one point in the narrative. But what becomes clear is the complexity of the situation facing public managers who have to muddle through in the midst of withering crossfire from competing demands. Which is just what the transition team charged with closing Metropolitan State, led by Rae O’Leary and Doris Carreiro, was forced to do. Hogarty focuses on their efforts, providing an on-the-ground perspective that is valuable but loses something of the big picture.

More troubling is Hogarty’s unqualified acceptance of the Weld administration’s charge that mental health services in Massachusetts “had become unduly burdened by political and contractual obligations to organized groups,” namely “mental health advocates and labor unions.” I would have liked to see a more independent evaluation of that claim. Instead, Hogarty echoes this perspective, asserting that the closing of state hospitals “broke the stranglehold of power that the contending forces maintained over the system.”

The next essay deals with the struggle over control of the state’s colleges and universities in 1985 and ’86, a battle that pitted the governor against the Legislature, academic integrity against politics, public higher education against private, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst against the rest of the public system, and, in the minds of some participants, good against evil. (Hogarty, who can’t resist a good story, suggests for most of the chapter that it also pitted the Irish against the Yankees, but near the end he admits that this was an “overblown” media myth, since two of the leaders on the “Irish” side–Speaker George Keverian and John Fox, a member of the Board of Regents–were not even Irish.)

Here’s the tale in a nutshell. After Chancellor John Duff’s sudden resignation in December 1985 in the wake of a political fundraising scandal, Fox and several other regents–mainly holdovers appointed by the previous governor, Ed King–wanted to appoint Democratic state Rep. James Collins of Amherst to the post. Another group of regents, led by Dukakis appointee Paul Ylvisaker, saw Collins as a political hack and wanted to mount a nationwide talent search. Collins was given the job on July 1; on July 2, Dukakis replaced the chairman of the Board of Regents and announced his intention to fire Collins. He succeeded two months later, after appointing three new regents. Franklin Jennifer, a professional higher education administrator from New Jersey and an African-American, was appointed chancellor the same day. Hogarty asserts that Dukakis got involved in these campus politics partly to protect his presidential ambitions. Thus, however ironically, the forces of academic integrity won out through blatantly political intervention.

Hogarty’s next chapter, “The Harringtons of Salem,” is not political analysis, but rather a romantic history of a political family. And what a family! The Harringtons included a state Senate president (Kevin), a congressman (Michael), and several other elected officials. There is much to be learned from this account of the family’s struggles upward from patriarch Cornelius’s “humble origins,” which go back to Skibbereen in 1833. Hogarty does not hesitate to point out the weaknesses and failings of the various Harrington politicos, but he does so with empathy and understanding.

The reader inevitably thinks of other famous Irish political families –the Kennedys and the McCormacks most prominently, but numerous others of lesser stature. While one might compare the differences in their relative success, one learns more about politics by seeing what they have in common, such as their understanding of themselves as Irish. As a Scandinavian Protestant from the Midwest, I will probably never grasp this concept completely. But surely a big part of it is the continuing memory of the time when, as Hogarty himself puts it, “Protestant hatred of Catholics and fear of papal authority played a large part in American nativism” –a hatred that, in the opinion of some Catholic political leaders, is still embodied in the Massachusetts Constitution’s explicit ban on aid to parochial schools. Hogarty touches on a couple of Yankee political dynasties–the Lodges, the Saltonstalls–in the course of the book. It would have been interesting to compare them with the Harringtons more directly.

As Hogarty makes clear, the Legislature seems to develop a new ethics scandal, followed by a new reform, on a periodic basis.
Hogarty acknowledges that he first wrote the essay “From MBM Scandal to State Ethics Reform” in 1978, but in updating it, at least through 2000, he had no need to revise his opening declaration: “The Massachusetts Legislature is under a cloud after decades of intermittent scandals and endless embarrassments.” The chapter is a good source of information, especially regarding the McKee-Berger-Mansueto (MBM) scandal of 1977, which involved bribes in the building of the UMass-Boston campus. (For subsequent ethical imbroglios, such as House Speaker Charles Flaherty’s difficulties in the 1990s, a fuller account will be found in John McDonough’s Experiencing Politics.) As Hogarty makes clear, the Legislature seems to develop a new ethics scandal, followed by a new reform, on a periodic basis. Nevertheless, he thinks there has been real progress. “No longer is Massachusetts perceived as a ‘state for sale.’ Gov. Michael Dukakis put a stop to that.” This progress has been due not only to the tone set by Dukakis, but to the work of the Inspector General and the State Ethics Commission, entities created in the various waves of reform.

The final chapter, originally published in CommonWealth, discusses the (over)use of “outside sections” of the state budget, i.e. statutory provisions inserted as riders. This essay is less an analysis than an indictment, and a fully justified one. Outside sections give the legislative leadership the chance to enact policies that would not receive majority support on their own merits. As such they are a perversion of the legislative process. Massachusetts has escaped the extremes of such states as Wisconsin, where Gov. Tommy Thompson learned to use his veto to change the meaning of bills by striking out individual words, letters, and numerals, but the outside section is still an egregious example of lawmaking by sleight of hand, and should be eliminated. (In response to critics ranging from Hogarty to Steve Crosby, former administration and finance secretary and current chief of staff to acting Gov. Swift, the Legislature has recently reduced its reliance on budget riders.)

Hogarty attempts to tie these disparate pieces together with an introductory essay, “Understanding Power in Massachusetts,” which itself combines a brief political history of the state, a primer on American federalism, and a discussion of different theoretical approaches to the study of power. The history is fascinating, but the theoretical section promises more than it delivers. Hogarty frames the discussion as a debate between power elite and pluralist theories, coming down on the side of pluralism. But in his case studies, pluralist analysis is nowhere to be seen. Pluralism presents policy decisions as the product of interest group conflict; Hogarty tends to see them as the result of individual choices by key policymakers. This orientation is useful and interesting, but it is not pluralism. Perhaps Hogarty should have attempted to formulate a theory of his own.

Meet the Author

Still, these theoretical musings were clearly added after the fact, and in no way detract from the rest of the book, which wonderfully evokes the spirit of Massachusetts politics in the 20th century‹and perhaps the 21st as well.

John C. Berg is a professor of government and director of graduate studies at Suffolk University. He recently edited Teamsters and Turtles: US Progressive Political Movements in the 21st Century, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield this fall.